Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Are You Talking to Me? Hailing the Reader in Indigenous Children's Literature

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Are You Talking to Me? Hailing the Reader in Indigenous Children's Literature

Article excerpt

Indigenous-authored children's books are frequently subjected to a non-Indigenous gaze in both their production (editing, design and so on) and reception. The texts discussed here address their many readers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, child and adult, using various techniques. The paratexts in particular address readers and claim their attention in a variety of ways. This paper is an analysis of two Indigenous authored children's books, My Girragundji by Meme McDonald and Boori Pryor and Tell me why by Robyn Templeton and Sarah Jackson. The first part of the analysis looks closely at Tell me why, and explores critical strategy to the approaches taken within the text. Boori Pryor's and Meme McDonald's My Girragundji is the second text analysed, exploring issues of audience address and textual authorisation. The paper concludes with a discussion of the political repercussions of the role of paratexts in Indigenous children's books, and the ways in which these contribute to how the imagined reader perceives the role of both text and author.

Paratext is a concept originating with Gerard Genette (1997) in his book Paratexts. Genette is a narratologist, and his work reflects a tendency to try and quantify every element of the book (or the work as Barthes would say) as well as the text. He defines paratext as both peritext and epitext, material that comes both before and after the text. Paratexts would include such things as the blurb, introductions, forewords, acknowledgements, titles, cover art, design and so on. While Genette goes into immense detail about the history and traditions of each kind of paratext, the underlying concept is more important to this analysis. Material that frames the narration and informs the reader how to read the book is the most important and basic function of the paratext. As Genette suggests with his title in French, Seuils (Thresholds) the paratext is the doorway through which the narration is reached.

How the text interpellates the reader is one of the key tasks of the paratext, especially in books written by Indigenous authors. There is a long history of complicated paratextual elements in Indigenous authored children's works--traditionally paratexts written by non-Indigenous specialists, editors or authors mediating between the work and an (assumed) non-Indigenous audience. There is quite a bit of work being done in this area looking at paratext in African works published in French, African-American works and in the testimonio genre of South American writing; for example Beth McCoy's (2005) 'Paratext, Citation, and Academic Desire in Ishamel Reed's Mumbo Jumbo'. These articles address the way in which Western 'experts' use paratext as a way of mediating between the author or text and the audience through writing introductions, glossaries and so on. That this can be done as a way of maintaining control over the Other by the dominant textual culture, as well as a way of claiming knowledge and power for the individual 'expert' can be seen in such Australian texts as Mary Durack's introduction to Mudrooroo's Wild Cat Falling, as well as in examples from other countries.

Margaret McDonnell (2004) has used this key idea of paratext (also described in her dissertation as 'marginalia') to look at different voices and discourses that are present in published texts written by Indigenous authors, but edited by non-Indigenous editors. She comments that:

  in most instances, the stories these women wish to tell and the ways
  in which they wish to tell them are mediated through a system which
  has, over time, perpetuated the very representations that life writing
  seeks to address.
  (McDonnell 2004 p. 3)

The paratext is one way in which non-Indigenous editors have traditionally framed the writing of Indigenous authors in a context or form that non-Indigenous readers can recognise. Thinking about paratext allows the reader to address these political issues. …

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